Illness Meanings and Illness Behaviour

  • Arthur Kleinman


Most research writings on sickness have proceeded at a pace without much attention to the categorization, valuation, personal and cultural significance of illness experience. This failure must seem bizarre to any laymen with personal experience of serious and chronic illness, and to clinicians who treat such problems, since it is a routine experience of the sick and those who care for them (be they family or professionals) that illness both brings particular meanings to a sick person’s life world (e.g., the threat of death, the loss of valued body image, a new way of seeing and living in one’s world heretofore taken-for-granted) and also crystallizes those special meanings in his/her world that constitute and express a particular form of life (e.g., cancer in the context of a desperately unhappy middle-age marriage, heart disease in the throes of a mid-life crisis that has left a businessman demoralized in his failed quest for lost youth, severe disability in an economically marginal retired couple that threatens bitter catastrophe in what cultural rhetoric has promised should be the “golden years”).


Chronic Illness Illness Experience Cultural Significance Illness Behaviour Sick Person 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur Kleinman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityUSA

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